Ron Burgundy said it best:
“I’ve been coming to the same party for 30 years now and in no way is that depressing."
The British Snowboard Championships have been running for just shy of 30 years, but are still just as entertaining today as they were when they started in Glenshee in 1989.
"These days there are less drugs, more professionalism and the standard of riding is incredible"
Taking place in the first week of April in Laax, the main difference these days is the level of debauchery. High or low points (depending on your moral compass) include Meribel in 1997, when Martin Deeson – the journalist and self-styled British Hunter S Thompson – covered the champs for Loaded Magazine and decided to spice things up by plying competitors with liquid acid; or Mayrhofen in 1999, when an accordion and stuffed ferret were borrowed from the main hotel bar and returned only once the ferret had been shaved, leaving a comedy goatee (meanwhile, the accordion was played by two men holding each end on either side of the room and then running towards each other, creating a sound not dissimilar to a blue whale being inflated with a jet engine).
These days there are less drugs, more professionalism (judges aren’t allowed to drink or pack bongs) and probably most importantly, the standard of riding is incredible.
There is one further addition that has changed the atmosphere at the Brits, and that’s the families. Ironically enough, in some cases it’s the same early generation of British snowboarders who were instrumental in creating the aforementioned mayhem that are now returning to the Champs with their offspring. The Rothneys bring their pint-sized turbos Rosie and Emily; Nigel and Vicky Brookes bring the glimpse of the future that is their daughter Mia; the Blackwells bring their tribe of girls; Steve and Maisie Hill make the pilgrimage from Morzine; and of course yours truly now turns up with his own clan of Leighs.
The comps are as laid back or competitive as you want them to be. Colin Holden, the founder and custodian of the famous Clipboard Of Power (now recognized across the world following its appearance at the Olympics) shares start gate duties with Shiner and ensures everyone keeps it positive and above the belt.
"In SBX you are racing toe to toe with the person next to you, and if you want it badly enough there’s no reason why you can’t win
The week kicks off with snowboard cross, then Big Air (which was once again presented by Picture Organic Clothing), slopestyle and finally halfpipe. The SBX is the perfect opener because it is probably the most nerve-wracking. In all of the others, you are essentially competing against yourself; your own fears, ability and desire. In SBX, none of that matters. You are racing toe-to-toe with the person next to you, and if you want it badly enough and don’t flinch then there’s no reason why you can’t win.
The UK Armed Forces always make a strong showing in the SBX, but despite the intimidating title they’re a lovely crew who race and party with the same intensity. Clare Collis, Ian Sanderson and Patrick Morris all left their mark on the qualification – as did Aimee Fuller, who banked the fastest womens' time to go into the elimination as the number one seed. But as we’ve seen so many times before, fast times don’t always equate to racing skills once people go edge to edge, and so it was for Aimee in the finals when she fell at the last turn and gifted Maisie Hill gold, while Joanna Szczyglowska from the UKAF took silver. In the men’s, it was the under 18 Huw Nightingale who upset the seeding times to sneak the gold out from under Pat Morris’ nose.
Big Air and Slopestyle are pretty intimidating days because they both take place on the Laax Pro Line – exactly the same jumps and rails as the Laax Open. These are the disciplines that Britain’s Olympic team excels at, and watching the finals this fact is all too clear. Anyone not from the UK, let me make this crystal clear: Billy Morgan, Jamie Nicholls, Jenny Jones and Katie Ormerod are not exceptions; these days their ability level is the rule.
For me, getting to see our emerging talent in action is a real treat, especially in the Under 16 category where the ‘L Force’ of Liam Tynan, Lewis Moore and Leon Drynan – alongside George Waite – are pushing each other so hard that they are starting to give GB Park and Pipe coach Hamish McKnight a headache, albeit a good one.
"Let me make this crystal clear: Billy Morgan, Jamie Nicholls, Jenny Jones and Katie Ormerod are not exceptions; these days their ability level is the rule"
Big Air got called after the first run because of high winds. so we didn’t get to see Liam Tynan attempt the double cork 1260 he had put down at the weekend. Instead it was George Waite who took the honours with a backside 720, which was also enough to gain him bronze in the Open behind his brother Harry (who stomped a cab double underflip) and Billy Cockrell who boosted a beautiful double cork 1080.
She may only be 11, but Mia Brookes has already left an indelible mark on British snowboarding. She is far from the finished article, but the fact that her style, ability and control on a board can take out all the open women is a source of great wonder. After being presented with her medal and cheque, Mia’s comment on what she would spend the prize money on was a great reminder of just how young she is: “I might save up for a car or buy some Lego."
In Slopestyle, Billy Cockrell’s dub 10 became the centrepiece of a great run that made it two for two in changeable conditions. The kid from Castleford is starting to make some serious progress, not just in terms of tricks but also consistency, so is definitely one to keep and eye on.
In the Women’s, Cerys Allen and Maisie Hill had a proper battle for the ages. Knowing she needed something special in the final to overhaul Cerys Allen’s big-hitting run, Maisie opted to send a huge backflip, much to the joy of the crowd. It wasn’t enough though, and Cerys took her maiden British Championship title.
"It has to be said that our days of producing world class pipe riders appear to be over"
That left just the halfpipe, and while the famous Laax U-ditch always provides a great spectacle, it has to be said that our days of producing world class pipe riders appear to be over. The fact that Lesley McKenna’s run to take gold in the Masters (over 30s) would have put her on the men’s Open podium tells you everything you need to know about the strength in depth of the men’s field. Indeed, the very talented Lewis Courtier-Jones was able to win despite a fall, which only confirmed that with the retirement of Ben Kilner and Dom Harington, we have waved goodbye to competing on a global level for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, Liam Tynan showed that he’s far from just a kicker machine with some lovely board control to take silver, and could yet be the man to make me regret that last sentence.
Maisie Hill made it two golds for the week with a banging run in the Women’s that managed to push the three-time Olympian Lesley McKenna into silver (though find me another woman in her 40’s who can consistently go six feet out and casually drop a 7!) while rounding out the podium was Mia Brookes. No doubt Mia will have her eye on the top spot next year.
With the RK1 boys in town, Friday night offered those with livers of steel the opportunity to go big in the Riders Palace, but most were still too bent from Tuesday night’s quiz with the evergreen/washed up Monsieur Poudrueuse. Maybe the debauchery is still present after all…
Thanks go out to Laax for being so rad, and Spencer Claridge, Stu Brass and their incredible crew for putting on another brilliant champs. See you next year.